To the roof of Africa

After my 8 day run around Kilimanjaro I was enjoying the big king size bed and the hot shower in the hotel in Moshi, where I stayed one night before literally heading back where I finished my run – the Marangu Gate – to start my 6 day climb.

Day 1: Marangu gate (1,800m) – Mandara Hut (2,743m) – Elevation Gain: 915m
The 8km walk, slowly gaining in altitude, followed along a narrow trail through the rainforest was only interrupted by a short picnic lunch at halfway point. After just over 3 hours we reached Mandara Hut our first overnight stop. Whilst climbing high altitude it is recommended to sleep always a few hundred meters lower then the highest reached point on the day. So after lunch in the late afternoon, Muty (my guide) and I took a short walk to Maundi Crater to enjoy the great views to the east over Taveta and to the northwest to Mawenzi Peak. The A-frame huts at each camp along this route can accommodate up to four people each with a total of currently 70 climbers at any given time (guides and porters sleep separately in a common hut). I could see construction going on to eventually double the capacity along the shortest route to the top of Kilimanjaro. Apparently over 50,000 climbers try to reach the top every year!
Oxygen Level 92 / Puls 57 – we would measure this every day until the top. I drank 4 l of fluid and had to pee 6x the first night!

Day 2: Mandara Hut (2,743m) to Horombo Hut (3,720m) Elevation Gain: 977m
After breakfast, we left Mandara Hut and soon thereafter the rain forests to start trekking through a rocky and moon like landscape with desert-like plants towards Horombo Hut. Shortly before arriving at Horombo we trekked out of the clouds into blue sky and our first view of Mawenzi and Kibo peaks. Kibo is the name for the highest peak of the whole volcano called Kilimanjaro. Arrive at Horombo Hut at around 3pm after 5 hours of trekking I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing before heading of on my own for an hour walk to a higher altitude. Although extremely busy, the Horombo Huts are quite a nice spot to acclimatize. The accommodation is catering and provide lodging for over 120 hikers ascending, descending and acclimatizing plus many more porters, cooks and guides. In the late afternoon the clouds came rolling in again and by dinner time it was almost hard to see your hand in front of your face! In the communal dining hall I made new friends, amongst them a Turkish couple, where I discovered that Cihan’s wife Feray already started suffering from altitude. Luckily I had plenty of Diamox to share around and next morning Feray was feeling much better again. One of the side effects of Diamox is the extensive peeing and as a result interrupted sleep at night. My guide suggested to take the last Diamox at 3pm so by bed time we probably have an empty bladder and could sleep better – worked a treat ☺. Oxygen 90 / Puls 60 – drank 4 l of fluid during the day plus teas for dinner

Day 3: Horombo Hut (3,720m) towards Mawenzi Hut (4,220m) and back to Horombo Hut
Elevation Gain and Loss: 500 meters. Day three is an acclimatization day. The 5 km out and back hike reward us with magnificent views of Kibo and Mawenzi and took us 3 hours. The afternoon and evening was used to relax at Horombo. Oxygen 93 / Puls 63 I feel good, the 10 days running around 2,000m prior this climb together with Diamox has made the trek sofar rather comfortable and easy

Day 4: Horombo Hut (3,720m) to Kibo Hut (4,750m)
Elevation Gain: 1,030m After breakfast we left Horombo Hut to hike through the reminder of the moorland and slowly raised towards the alpine desert of Kilimanjaro’s upper altitudes. After hiking for about an hour we had to cross Maua River and afterwards the terrain became flatter and the vegetation began to disappear. After lunch break we continue on a steady incline for another two hours through Kilimanjaro’s Saddle. Although the environment on the way to Kibo is a bleak desert with little vegetation and exposed to icy cold winds, we were compensated with many stunning views of Kibo and Mawenzi peaks. I reach Kibo Hut after 4:30 hours and 9km of slow but comfortable hiking. Breathing at 4,700m is getting hard and we were told to rest and prepare for your midnight climb to the top. Oxygen level dropped to 89 with puls raising to 64 – all good readings compared to a low 65 oxygen for Feray, who was not the only one suffering from the effects of high altitude. After some dinner (at this altitude most people have lost their appetite) and a short nap we got woken up at 11pm to get ready for the mid-night assault to the top. With temperature way below zero by now I started wearing all available clothing and this was the moment I could replace my favorite underwear with a pair of thermal leggings.

Day 5: Kibo Hut (4,750m) to Uhuru peak (5,895m) and back to Horombo Hut (3,720m) Elevation Gain: 1,145 meters/ Elevation Loss: 2,175 meters
The 6 km to the top of Africa took me 6 hours with the return hike down to Horombo Huts (15km) being done in 3 hours! Around midnight we started for the final ascent to Uhuru Peak, the roof of Africa. The hike begins with a demanding five hour hike to Gillman’s Point on the crater rim. Although this is considered to be the easiest of the three crater ascent paths, it is still extremely difficult. The first major rest stop, William’s Point, lies at 5000 meters and is approximately a two hour hike from Kibo Hut. Feray and a few others sadly had to turn around here due to feeling unwell. After another thirty minutes or so I started the rocky switchbacks that will continue all the way up to Gillman’s Point (5,681 meters). As the only light I had was my head torch it was difficult to guess how far I had climbed or how far I had to go to the rim and like all Tanzanian, Muty was very vague with his time or distance estimations. About half way up I had to stop for a 5 minute breather – we continued a bit slower but continuously pushed up and after 6am we reached the rim of the huge crater when at the same time a small golden rim appeared on the horizon announcing eminent sun rise – perfect timing!
The hike from Gilman’s to Uhuru Peak is a gradual climb of 200m elevation and as far as hikes go, not very difficult. The altitude, however, makes the hike long and tiring. It took us another 90 minutes to reach Uhuru – the roof of Africa and the top of the worlds highest single standing mountain. It is hard to describe ones feelings or even the view …. for me it was a child dream come through. The feeling of achievement is obvious in everyone’s faces – standing on the top with nowhere else to go, above the clouds, without any vegetation, animal life or noise as far as you can see and the sun raising over the clouds bringing much needed warmth back into our cold bodies – was very special and gratifying. My climb also included a special mission – bring and leave some ashes on the roof of Africa of our beloved neighbor Elaine, who passed away a few months earlier and loved this continent. I found a deserving little spot for her just behind the summit.

One does not linger unnecessary at almost 6,000m altitude and after the obligatory photos we turn around and made our way down – meeting a few tired faces still struggling on their way up. The view heading down were different and equally magnificent. The six hour climb to the top took us 1 hour back and after a short stop for snacks at Kibo Hut, I asked my guide Muty if he want’s to run down with me. He declined but together we made our descend back all the way to Horombo Hut in a short 2 hours for the 11km. Being down at 3,700m my Oxygen level was back at 93 and Puls at 64

Day 6: Horombo Hut (3,720m) to Marangu Gate (1,800m)
Elevation Loss: 1,920 meters. After breakfast, I was ready to finish the 19km fast to get under that hot shower and we descended to Marangu Gate in less then 4 hours! Again passing through Kilimanjaro’s cloud forest seeing quite a few monkeys on the way. Had to watch my step during the descent, as the trail in the forests was slippery.

After a catch up celebration dinner and drinks with Cihan and Feray in Moshi, I was looking forward to the famous island of Zanzibar – beach, beer and relaxing….finally.

 

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Around and up on 8 shorts and 1 pair of underwear

Running for 8 days and 260km in a very remote part of Eastern Africa, with the nearest hospital probably more than 24 hours away, required some preparation and my challenge was enhanced by adding an extra 6 days climbing to the top of the highest single standing mountain on the planet.

All gear laid out on bed ready to be packed up

And with only 23 kg luggage allowance something had to give….but I have to admit finding myself half way up Kilimanjaro with only one pair of underwear was a bit of a surprise….I enjoyed however the luxury of changing into a new set of running gear every morning of the run very much!

After a comfortable flight (got three seats to stretch to Abu Dhabi) I arrived in what looked like a very provincial airport, in Dar es Salaam, or DAR as the local say. I was pleased that I had my visa organised beforehand as the queue for visa was endless and I would have surly missed my domestic connection. To connect domestically one needs to actually get out of the building (Exit) only to turn right and enter the departure area next door to re-screen everything and check-in. All went rather smoothly for me, unlike my French running buddy whose bag ended up in Nairobi (Kenya) for a day before catching up with him again in Moshi. Apparently he did not tip the bag carrier…..

The lush gardens of Simon’s B&B – our start and end camp on the foot of Kilimanjaro at 1,700m altitude

Dining area with fireplace keeping us warm and smokey

First two days were relaxing and final preparation at Simon’s great accommodation near Mbahe Village close to Marangu Gate (Park Entry for Kilimanjaro Climb), the five of us (Hannah (UK), Marco (France), Chris (USA), Helmut (Austria) and myself) plus our four guides headed off into the wilderness of Kilimanjaro National Park. We literally ran the whole 260km length of the border line of the NP.

Profile Day 1 – 32km, 15 serious climbs in total 1,798m up and 1,733m down

Five runners and 4 guides ready for the 260km

Before we head off Simon asked us all to help plant a tree each on his farm land to help re-forest the area and leave a small legacy from our visit. Just looking at the profile map freaked me out – at 1,800m altitude, with a very hot and humid sun burning down on us, we know we are in for a hell of a day. And we were not wrong, spending almost nine long hours on our feet to cover the first 32 km. We crossed dozens of streams and rivers, many with deep and steep gorges to descend and ascend, while keeping Mawenzi, Kilimanjaro’s second peak, on our left and Kenya’s Tsavo National Park to our right. I was completely spent and exhausted at the end of this very difficult first day.

First climb and those guides jogged up!

Another steep downhill

Sunset at first Camp – we all had our own tent plus kitchen and dining tent

Profile Day 2 – 31km with only one long climb, 1,086m up and 902m down

Helmut and Markus having a rest on the road along the border to Kenya

Boarder Stone with Kenya. We are standing in Kenya

Helmut and I stuck together at end of the group and having a photo stop

Boy walking to school with piece of wood under arm – for the fire to cook lunch

Small girl watching the strange white runners crossing their village

Hannah in background but check out the Chameleon on the tree

 

We approach Kilimanjaro’s drier northeast flank, the number and depth of the gorges lessen, as did the number of settlements. We encounter quite a few noisy colobus and blue monkeys in the forests. And for a few kilometers we ran along the border to Kenya keeping its Tsavo National Park to our right. This was a much better day even so the sun was still out there and hot. Our camp was set-up after about 25km run so we dropped or bags at the tent and made up for the missing 6 km running a loop through a very cool and pleasant pine forest.

Ahhhh, it took some searching but on day two Helmut and I finally found some cold beer! Relaxing in front of our tents on Day 2

After 6 hours of running we could enjoy the luxury of a hot shower using the bathroom in one of the huts next to our camp and I found a place which sold some luck warm Kilimanjaro Beer. Helmut and I (being the slowest two in the group) needed some encouraging.

Profile Day 3 – 38km mostly downhill along the Kenyan Boarder. 532m up and 1,077m down

The forest thins and with it the sun burned even more on us, as we run through a dry and rocky landscape, passing Maasai settlements and with the chance to see wildlife migrating from the plains below to mountainside above. Marco, our French chef from Paris, being always the fastest in the front, ran almost into a Giraffe! Our campsite after 6 hours of running was at a primary school overlooks Amboseli National Park in Kenya, where the only light comes from the stars above and the few safari lodges within the park. Stunning scenery with Kilimanjaro sticking its head out through the clouds and watching the sun go down over the plains of Africa!

Crossing dry corn fields

Chris running down a huge lava field

Camp 3 in a school yard

Kilimanjaro in background and sunset. Hannah, Markus and Helmut waiting for dinner

 

Profile Day 4 – 31km becoming 45km. 780m up and 778m down

Fogy morning – Elephant, Buffalo, Giraffe and many Baboons in the area

Trying to find our way in the thick bushes and high grass

Limited running in this dense and bushy landscape

Single file of runners disappearing in the fog

Lunch break – Helmut and Markus rehydration

Ah, Serenity – we arrived at Camp 4 – a 3 star hotel!

A bed for a king (or tired runner)

Exiting the sparse landscape, we skirt Legumishera Hill, which contains a small lake at the summit and is the source of much local superstition. Most of the day we were engulfed in thick, wet fog, which gave us the feeling of running through Jurassic Park. We run several hilly kilometers along the forest edge between Kilimanjaro National Park and cultivated land, coming across fresh Elephant and Buffalo droppings together with regular encounters of big groups of Baboons, enticed our guides to drive us on a bit faster to avoid any unfriendly encounters with local wildlife. We planned to finish the day at Simba Farm, one of the original European farms in Tanganyika Territory, however they were fully booked so we had to run a bit further trying to catch up with our support vehicle. So we had a 45km/11hrs day in the end. In the confusion our jeep with the bags ended up in the wrong valley and our stage got longer and longer. Never mind, this is Africa and after an extra 15km drive we ended up staying in a very nice hotel for the night – most comfortable bed and hot shower plus great dinner and cold beer! Woo Hoo!

Profile Day 5 – the hills are back, 44km with 1,660m up and 1,756m down

The group having a rest on top of one of the many hills enjoying the view

These climbs never end

Curious local kids sneaking up on us

 

Since we did our long stage yesterday today’s day was 10km shorter then anticipated. We exited to a hot and dry lowland stretch, and return to the verdant southern slopes of Kilimanjaro with many steep up and downs for the last part of the stage. This time Helmut and I stuck together at a slower pace and with using the poles, our ‘pole – pole’ (slowly, slowly) approach paid off and we did not end up at camp completely exhausted again. We camped near a school and quick became the attraction of the year for the 200+ kids. Chris lost his mobile phone on the down hill run but luckily for him some local investigating and baksheesh helped to get it back in one piece.

Group waiting for the jeep but I spotted it on the rim of the next valley – only another 8km to run!

Forgot to tell you that Helmut and I started yesterday a deal with our support crew giving them money every morning to organise a couple of cold cokes and a bottle of beer each for dinner – this worked a treat and made life so much more pleasant! Tomorrow is a big day – profile map looks like Day 1 on steroids…

Profile Day 6 – 42km and a hard one – 2,513m up! and 1,466m down with three steep peaks in a row

Today we encounter our steepest valleys and ridges above a densely settled area of smallholder Arabica coffee farms that use centuries-old irrigation canals dug along the mountainside. Passing many village with each having its own primary school, meeting many kids showing of their unique and distinctive uniform colour. Helmut became my pacemaker and with the help of a NoDoz we managed to finish a very long 11 hours day! Tonight we camped at Simon’s farm and we had our first night of rain (ended up witha wet mat in the tent!)

One could really get lost in this rain forest without guides

One of many waterfalls we had to cross

A troubled bridge of calm waters

Some of us look buggered

Wet feet this time as no bridge to cross river

Lush and green country side

 

Profile Day 7 – 25km a hilly up of 1,658m and down 1,647m

The distance get a bit shorter but the route is still brutal with its steep climbs and drops.
We saw and crossed many spectacular waterfalls and rivers and sometimes we even had to cut our way through thick jungle plus with the rain from last night the trail got muddy and slippery – all in all a very tiering day with all of us at least falling or slipping once

Kidia was the site of the first European settlement in the Kilimanjaro region. The original church and mission station are still intact. Each mountain ridge in this area is either predominantly Lutheran or Catholic, depending on the original missionary group operating there. Another day of extreme elevation changes lasting almost 9 hours!

Not sure what Marco has in mind following me with a machete in his hand

Helmut climbing up another hill

Profile Day 8 – a mere 22km and apart from a few steep up good running 1,061m up and 982m down

Running high above the villages and just outside the national park boundary, our final day brings even more spectacular views and a joyous return to Mbahe Village, where we started 7 days ago. Comfortable 5 hours run in cool weather – we did it! Running 8 days around the roof of Africa. The beer tonight tasted soooooo good!

Everyone looking forward to a hot shower


The Kilimanjaro Stage Run is probably more a hard-core trek as 80% of the route is too steep to run for a normal person….keep in mind Simon bloody ran up to the top of Kili a few years ago in less then 10 hours!! So it is all relative, right.

The whole event is top class – excellent service through out, with comfy and big tents or luxury accommodation. We had access to hot water to wash every night and morning, great and plenty of food and if one get’s organised a cold coke and beer is possible every day too!

8 days / 260km / Elevation +11’088m / – 10’341m

Guess I am ready to add a short 70km and +4’000m climb to the top of Kibo now!

Thanks to Chris and Marco for sharing their photos